Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Blizzy Days

by Zinta Aistars

The world has turned white. Weather people are calling it the Blizzard of 2011, but the common folk offer up better names: Snowpocalypse, for instance. Or Snowlapalooza. News stations are in high gear, busy and a bit hysterical, reporting on snow fall—about 11 inches in Kalamazoo and adding  3 to 6 more inches this afternoon—and traffic—almost none—and the heroic efforts of those who run snow plows, now running in shifts. Reporters stand in drifts, bundled in umpteen layers of mismatched clothing, woolen hats pulled down low, and make jokes about snow being measured now as thigh-high and maybe soon, hip-high.

I’m loving it. Every winter deserves a champion blizzard. Our last two winters have been wimps, but this one has finally come through. Even the office is closed, more or less, with most of us working from home. 

I rise early, an almost eerie white glow seeping through the blinds of my bedroom window. I’m like a kid who has just heard about a snow day, a day out of school, and I am eager to bundle up in my own umpteen layers and get out in it. My old chow pup perks up as I get out of bed. 

It’ beautiful out here. Still dusky, not quite day yet. I am wearing a pair of snow pants over my sweat pants, two pairs of socks, but I push back the hood of my coat when I stand outside. Not so very cold. The snowflakes are swirling in dizzy circles, dancing and not wanting to fall. Soft. Delicate. Light, but in such quantity, they are showing their power of collaboration.

I start to shovel, push under and lift, and the snow isn’t too heavy, not wet, not too bad, until I am at about shovel lift Number 53. Just then, my neighbor Dennis appears, not saying a word, shovel in hand. Snow catches in his beard and melts on his smile. He sets to work, and sometimes, I have to admit, man muscle is the best. He whips through the driveway in some 20 minutes while I shovel the sidewalk and the steps up to the front door. We don’t speak. Just work. And the work feels good.

Dennis heads home across the street when we finish, waving over his shoulder, calling back—“Stay warm!”—and I do, in heart and in body. Time to get that old chow pup out into these drifts of melty whiteness. I step inside just far enough to put on his harness where he already waits by the door and we head out into the street … where we figure the street should be. Where my shoveled drive ends, there is a step up into snow. 

Chow Guinnez puzzles. He wanders back from street up drives to where he thinks the sidewalk should be. Where is it? Only deep drift, shoulder high for him, and at last he has to leap like a chubby little gazelle, high up and over. He tugs me back out into the street, where it should be, and finds one lone pair of tire tracks in the snow where some brave soul with four-wheel drive ventured out. We follow it to street end, stand staring at white, more white, endless white, fields of white. We turn around to head back home. My work day is about to begin.

Settling in, pot of coffee at hand, I check work e-mail and begin proofreading a manual. This is it, this is how I would like my life to be … full of fluff and fun, with good work between, dog curled at my feet as the day moves slowly by. Commute energy saved, I work quickly and the coffee pot empties fast. 

Break time! Not coffee break, but snow break, and back into boots and out we go, chow pup and I. This time into the backyard, to stomp a thin path in the snow back to the evergreens, branches hanging heavy with pillows of white. Everyone seems to be asleep, except for the distant whir of a snow blower down the street. Neighbors are helping neighbors clear drives. Everyone else in inside. 

The sun bursts out for a moment and the yard comes alive with diamonds, a field of jewels, sparkling.

When I return to my indoor post, photos arrive from my daughter in Chicago. No sunshine there. Winds off the big lake are violent, but even she and her beau have gone out to wonder and play. She sends photos, a smile inside a circle of hooded fur, hanging onto a fence for dear life so that Windy City gusts don’t blow her away. 

We are all out of our routines. Our world has been caught in a pillow fight, downy feathers floating in air and covering everything, everything. Empty streets have forced us to slow. Our busy pace has calmed. 

Elsewhere, far away, revolutions are boiling, governments are churning, people are snowing into streets to express their opinions. Here, we are deep in silence but for the whistle of wind in the crack of a window. 

My fat squirrel appears on my deck. I look up from my work. Fat Squirrel, the same one that I have been watching through many seasons. He grows ever braver. Has chatter-mouthed at my cats and my pup, instilling respect along with frustration. This is his yard, no one else’s, we are here on borrowed time, and don’t forget it. Nuts to us. 

I give him his due: toss two small slices of stale baguette out into the snow. Not shy, he pounces in, grabs a slice, perches on the end post of my deck fence, and eats. His bushy tail whips around in the wintry wind, flops atop his head, curls around his perky ears. He eats. He eats, and then he leaps down for the second slice, holds it in his teeth, and bounces away to store it for a later hour. Doesn’t bother to say thank you. It is we who should be grateful. Small rent to pay. 

The snow stops. The world is still. From here, the stillness seems forever. Even fat squirrels now rest, even school children, even snow blowers and plows. There is only silence in a field of white.

(Chicago photos by Derek Vaughn.)

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